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A Port Jackson Shark explores its exhibit at Seal Cove

A group of Port Jackson Sharks will call Taronga Zoo home for the next two months, as part of an exciting research project seeking to unlock the secrets of shark society.

The Seal Cove exhibit is playing host to a small group of Port Jackson Sharks, a type of Bullhead Shark found around southern Australia, in the next stage of a study delving into the social behaviour of sharks.

“Understanding where and why sharks get together in large groups is essential for assessing their vulnerability to human threats such as overfishing and habitat destruction,” said Taronga Researcher, Dr Jo Day.

Researchers from Taronga and Macquarie University have been examining the social structure of a Port Jackson Shark breeding group at Jervis Bay since 2012, tagging and tracking the sharks to better understand their behaviour.

“Conducting further research in a controlled environment is an essential step to translating the data we’ve been collecting in the wild,” said Jo.

Researchers have fitted the sharks with transmitters and accelerometers on their dorsal fins to collect data on their behaviour, movements and interactions in Taronga’s specially-modified exhibit.

It is hoped the techniques developed for this project can be extrapolated to protect and learn about the social structure of other shark species.

“There’s been a lot of debate recently about culling sharks, but we still don’t know an awful lot about them,” said Jo.

“Australia is one of the most species-rich regions for sharks in the world, with 182 documented shark species, 40 percent of which are endemic. This means Australia has sole responsibility for the conservation and management of almost 25 percent of the world’s shark species.

“We hope this exhibit will give visitors a window into Taronga’s research activities and also encourage a greater appreciation for these mysterious and often misunderstood marine animals.”

The Port Jackson Sharks will be at Taronga through to early November before they are released back into the wild where their transmitters will continue to send valuable research data for up to 10 years.

The best place to see the sharks is the floor to ceiling viewing window inside the Zoo’s lower entrance.

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